Old Wounds, New Mythologies
The Natural Child lives within each of us. She is the innocent, vibrant, joyful, playful, trusting, loving, imaginative, creative, spontaneous energy of the realm of being. She is full of wonder and curiosity and delights in life. She is the antithesis of what is valued in our patriarchal society. In almost every one of us, she lives undercover.
From the moment of our birth, we are rewarded for certain behaviors and punished for others. Accordingly, some aspects of our self are strengthened and others weakened. We learn quickly the value of sending undercover those parts of ourselves that are not rewarded. These rejected parts are driven into our unconscious. They become our disowned selves, energies that are repressed but not destroyed. In Jungian terms, our disowned selves are a part of our shadow.* Our individuation and experience of wholeness requires our integrating these parts into our conscious awareness of self.
Hal Stone, PhD, and Sidra Winkelman, PhD, in Embracing Our Selves, write that the most universally disowned self in our civilized world appears to be the vulnerable child. Yet this child may be our most precious subpersonality, the one closest to our essence, the one that enables us to become truly intimate, to fully experience others, and to love. Unfortunately, she has usually disappeared by the age of five. While we may abandon her, we cannot destroy her. She lives within us—hurt and needy. Her unmet needs translate into limiting and self-destructive behaviors.
Much of the destructiveness in our relationships comes from our lack of connection to our inner child—connection to her sensitivity, fears, and imagination. If we were aware of our inner child, we would recognize that frequently when we respond with anger or withdrawal, what we need is to acknowledge the hurt feelings or needs of our inner child, rather than take actions that further separate us from the love we want.
Most of us live our lives based on decisions we made from very early childhood experiences. We call the “negative” experiences we had as a child, childhood wounds. Our wounds are carried and, neglected, fester in our disowned parts. Much of our personality has been structured around protecting ourself from the pain associated with our wounds. These wounds generate automatic, unconscious defenses (such as denial and repression of emotions) as we lose touch with the pain they cover. The pain is relegated to our shadow, while our defense mechanisms become a large part of our “act.”†
* Robert Bly, in A Little Book on the Human Shadow says “When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360 degree personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy. We had a ball of energy, all right; but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball.”
As we became “civilized,” we learned that many of our perceptions/behaviors were not acceptable (telling the neighbors our true feelings, crying in public, kissing our brother, wanting to kill our sister, talking to ourself out loud, remembering experiences from other lifetimes, etc.), so we eliminated them from our conscious mind, reducing our ball of energy to a thin slice of what we once had. Bly believes that we toss these non-acceptable ways of experiencing the world into a gunnysack that we drag along behind us—our shadow. As we encounter more and more expectations of the way we should be, the gunny sack gets longer and heavier, our shadow running more and more of our life—albeit often unnoticed by our conscious mind.
† Our childhood wounds are internalized and reinforced by our culture, feeding and sustaining the voice of the Self-Hater. Both are equally important to address: 1) our wounds, through offering the child within the love and nurturance we needed and never got and 2) our Self-Hater, through confrontation, as verbalizing and externalizing these voices brings to conscious awareness the intense feelings that lie within and the destructiveness of this voice. We can then develop more life-affirming expressions.